Startup Week panel highlights changing Boulder

Boulder has grown significantly over the past couple of decades, bringing in new, innovative companies and throngs of new residents. But it has also brought growing pains in the form of traffic, overcrowding and rising housing costs.

As part of Boulder Startup week, a group of business and community leaders gathered Thursday for panel discussion on the changing city, ways to foster healthy growth and the tension between “old Boulder” and “new Boulder.”

Sean Maher, CEO of the Downtown Boulder Partnership, said some long-time Boulderites have a somewhat “idealized version in their heads of what Boulder was” in the 1970s and 1980s.

Over the past 10 or 20 years, there‘s the perception that this “idyllic college town” has morphed and become something nearly unrecognizable, he said.

“It has gotten crowded, congested, expensive,” he said, parroting commonly heard complaints about Boulder‘s growth. “We have too many jobs, too many cars. We have too many people crowding up this beautiful community.”

He added: “Some people would like to turn the clock back.”

Lacking a functional time machine, this probably isn‘t a particularly reasonable solution to the city‘s growth issues. But even if it were possible, would going back in time make the city better? Some say no.

“I don‘t think it‘s worse today; I think it‘s better today,” Maher said. “It‘s different, but in mind it‘s not worse.”

Will Frischkorn, co-owner of Cured, a specialty grocer on Pearl Street, has seen the city change since arriving in Boulder 20 years ago. He echoed Maher‘s sentiment.

“This is still an amazing place — we‘re lucky,” he said. “This town has an energy now that it didn‘t have when I moved here in the late ‘90s.”

While panelists agreed that growth has been mostly good for Boulder, they also shared the belief that there must be steps taken to mitigate negative impacts.

“I envision a Boulder that stays funky and cool and weird, but in a forward way,” Boulder City Councilwoman Jill Adler Grano said. “There has to be a willingness to experiment and do things differently.”

That could mean taking measures to make alternative modes of transportation more accessible, reducing restrictions on cooperative housing and tiny home construction, and opening the city‘s alleys for more shops and dining establishments, she said.

Boulder Planning Board member Peter Vitale suggested Boulder‘s “building code could be changed because we incentivize the kind of development that nobody wants.”

“We are at the mercy of the building code,” he said. “From parking to density to setbacks, we don‘t need to let bureaucracy dictate how we are going to live here in Boulder.”